Zhou Yuxiang doesn’t have the everyday profile for working in China’s manufacturing world. A soft-spoken but incisive individual in his early thirties, Zhou graduated from Dartmouth College with a diploma in authorities and went on to work in funding banking in Hong Kong, following the trail of many Chinese abroad returnees.
But a few years into his profession, Zhou realized he wished to construct his personal enterprise. This was round 2015, a time when China was consumed by a startup craze amid Premier Li Keqiang’s marketing campaign for “mass entrepreneurship and innovation.” Rather than going into the glossy world of shopper life-style, fintech or AI, Zhou picked manufacturing as a place to begin.
During his time at Barclays, Zhou helped deep-pocketed Chinese producers scour for merger and acquisition offers in Europe. He noticed how factories in Germany digitize their operations utilizing Siemens and SAP options. In China, “factories had a lot of money and could buy top-of-the-line equipment. But on the software management front, they were still very primitive,” stated Zhou in an interview with TechCrunch.
“Most of the operation was done on paper. Every day, workers received a stack of papers telling them what to do, and in turn, they filled up the sheets reporting what material they had used… When you acquire these financially underperforming factories in Europe, you realize their software infrastructure capabilities are still far superior to yours,” Zhou added.
That digital hole inspired Zhou to begin Black Lake, a software program platform for manufacturing unit staff to log their every day duties and managers to oversee the plant flooring. Since its inception in 2016, the startup has raised over $100 million from GGV Capital, Bertelsmann Asia Investments, GSR Ventures, ZhenFund and others. The firm just lately closed a Series C spherical, pocketing practically 500 million yuan ($77 million) and bringing on new backers together with Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek, who led the spherical, in addition to China Renaissance and Lightspeed Venture Partners.
Black Lake’s imaginative and prescient is to be a one-stop collaboration platform for manufacturing unit staff and managers, digitizing knowledge incurred in all levels of manufacturing, from consumer orders, materials procurement, high quality compliance, warehouse administration, to logistics and cargo. The software program analyzes these reams of information, churning out studies for bosses to test for abnormalities in manufacturing and for staff to see how they may enhance their output and revenue.
Compared to SaaS incumbents from the West, Black Lake’s extra localized providers and reasonably priced costs have a higher enchantment to China’s large swathes of small and medium-sized factories, Zhou argued. Black Lake tries to simplify its consumer expertise to a Lego-like constructing course of so manufacturing unit bosses can simply customise the software program for their very own use. Workers entry the cloud-based software program from their smartphones, which have develop into ubiquitous in China’s prosperous cities thanks to more and more pleasant system costs and knowledge charges. A overseas SaaS big’s resolution may value a manufacturing unit no less than three million yuan a yr, whereas Black Lake prices 300,000 yuan or much less, Zhou stated.
To date, the corporate has served practically 2,000 producers and suppliers throughout the Greater China Region and Southeast Asia, counting in its prospects Tesla, L’Oréal, Xiaomi, Sinopec, and Chinese state-owned conglomerate China Resources’ pharmaceutical group. In all, the corporate claims to have reached 500,000 manufacturing staff.
Black Lake is driving a excellent wave of “upgrading” in China’s manufacturing world. For one, the demand for personalized merchandise is rising as customers develop into savvier. Instead of manufacturing bottled water with the identical packaging, as an illustration, beverage firms now design varied appears to be like tailor-made to completely different demographics. Factories want to regulate rapidly to the flood of personalized orders, and a cloud-based knowledge administration platform might be the answer, Zhou instructed.
The U.S.-China commerce warfare is one other impetus for China’s push for manufacturing unit upgrade. Having felt the warmth from commerce sanctions, Chinese producers look to reduce bills and enhance productiveness. That shift, together with the federal government’s “new infrastructure” coverage to breathe excessive tech into conventional industries, makes Zhou all of the extra bullish about his enterprise.
But Black Lake is definitely not the one one to have noticed alternatives in China’s efforts to modernize manufacturing, and enterprise software program in China has a notoriously gradual monetization cycle partly due to low adoption and firms’ reluctance to pay for providers. The key’s discovering a viable enterprise mannequin to fund its dream to be the last word “data entry point” for China’s hundreds of thousands of factories.
With proceeds from its new funding, Black Lake plans to spend on product improvement, hiring, market enlargement, and constructing an open platform for third-party builders. The startup realizes it could possibly’t construct every part factories want, and it’s already working with companions throughout telecommunications, cloud computing, automation and consulting, corresponding to Huawei, Alibaba, SAP and McKinsey.
“When Chinese factories ‘wake up’, their speed of digitization will definitely leapfrog that of their American and European counterparts,” Zhou asserted.